It’s been a while since we last looked at the book of Genesis together. But so far, we’ve spent five weeks studying chapters 1 and 2. We spent three weeks in chapter 1 and two weeks in chapter 2.
On the first week, we learned that Moses wrote the book of Genesis. And he wrote it, originally, for the people of Israel who were making their way from Egypt, through the wilderness, to the Promised Land. And one of the things he was trying to do was to convince the Israelites that their God was far, far, far greater than the gods of the pagans. The pagans worshipped the sun and the moon and the stars; but our God made the sun and the moon and the stars. Their gods struggled to make the world; but our God only had to speak and things were made.
The second week we concentrated on verse 2 where it tells us that the heavens and the earth — when God first made them — were formless and empty and dark. It was a dark, watery wasteland. Not the kind of place you’d want to live. But, of course, God wasn’t finished with it. He was about to transform this dark, watery wasteland into a world that would be a suitable home for us to live in. And so we thought about how he created the light so that the world was no longer dark. And he gave order and structure to the world so that it was no longer formless. And he filled the world with plants and fish and birds and animals so that it was no longer empty. And when everything was ready, when everything was just right, he finally created man. He was preparing a suitable home for us.
On the third week we concentrated on the creation of humanity. And so, we saw how God made men and women in his own image and likeness. And he gave us dominion and authority over everything else. And do you remember how, after he created us, he spoke directly to us. And so, we thought about how he made us with the capacity for language and for relationships, so that we could speak know one another and we could know him as well.
Well, on the fourth Sunday we spent out time thinking about the opening verses of chapter 2. Moses tells us that by the seventh day God had finished his work of creation. We often meet people who are good at starting things, but they’re not so good at finishing them. So, a builder starts to build a house, but soon he gets distracted, or he gets stuck, or he gets sick, and he can’t finish the work he began. But the Lord is not like that. What he begins, he finishes. When the world was made at first, it was a dark, watery wilderness. But he didn’t leave it there. He carried on until the work of creating the world was finished. What God begins, he finishes.
Well, having finished his work of creation, God was able to rest on the seventh day. And we read how he blessed the seventh day and made it holy. For the pagans, each seventh day was an unlucky day. They were bad days whenever bad things were supposed to happen. But for the Israelites, each seventh day was a good day. It was a blessed day. It was a day to look forward to with expectation and delight, because it meant they could rest their bodies from their labour. And then, since they didn’t have to work, then they had the time to worship the Lord and to give thanks to him. And so we thought about how God has given us the seventh day, every Sunday, for rest. And he’s given it to us for worship. And as we worship him, we look forward to the day when Jesus Christ our Saviour will return and we will enter into our eternal rest when we will be in the presence of God forever.
Well, on the fifth Sunday, we spent our time studying the remainder of chapter 2. And do you remember that I said that verse 4 is a kind of a heading to signify that we’re about to start a new section of the book of Genesis? Moses wrote:
This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.
And so he begins a new section which lasts until verse 9 of chapter 6. And whereas chapter 1 was about the creation of the world, this new section is about what happened once the world was made. So, Moses tells us again about the creation of Adam in chapter 2. And he tells us about their fall into sin in chapter 3. And in chapter 4 we see how sin spread through the human race. And things got so bad on the earth that God was grieved that he made us. And at that point, Moses introduces the next section of the book of Genesis which is about the story of Noah and the flood.
And we’ll get to all of that in due time. But we noticed the last time that chapter 2 is about the creation of Adam and it’s about God’s generosity towards him, his kindness to him. You see, the Lord provided Adam with everything he needed. He provided him with a home: this wonderful garden which God had filled with good things. And he provided him with all the food he needed: Adam was allowed to eat the fruit from virtually every tree in the garden. And then God provided Adam with Eve to help him. All the animals were brought before him, but none was a suitable helper. And so God put Adam into a deep sleep and when he awoke, there was Eve — and she was perfect for him. Chapter 2 is about God’s kindness to Adam and to Eve, his generosity and goodness to them. He did not withhold one good thing from them.
And that’s important, because it shows us that they had no reason whatsoever to disobey the Lord. But, of course, they did disobey the Lord. And that’s what chapter 3 is about.
The con man
Well, in verse 1 Moses introduces us to the serpent who — we read — was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. So, this serpent is crafty. He’s cunning. He’s a con-man.
Years ago, when I was the assistant minister in Ballysillan, a con-man came to church one Sunday. He pretended to be a lecturer from Queen’s University; and after the service, he said he’d like to make a private donation to the church. So he asked if there was a room where he could be alone in order to write a cheque for the church’s funds. Well, he’d tried this in a number of churches in the area, and apparently, in other churches, he’d been left alone in the church office, right where the morning offering was kept, waiting to be counted. And, in those other churches, he helped himself to the offering. Fortunately, we’d been warned about him and we were ready for him. But other churches were not ready and they were taken in by him. Well, since then I’ve met other people who have been taken in by con-men and afterwards, they shake their head in sorrow, and say:
How could I have been so easily deceived?
Well, this serpent is a con-man. Look down to verse 13 and you’ll see that Eve complained to God that the serpent had deceived her. And that’s what a con-man will do. He tricks us. He fools us. He deceives us. He gets us to believe things that aren’t right and he gets us to do things that aren’t right.
Well, lots of people read this story of the speaking snake and they don’t believe it. They say this can’t possibly be true. Sure, everyone knows that snakes can’t speak! And so, lots of people today say that this must be a myth, a made-up story! There’s no way that we’re meant to accept this as historical!
Well, there are two possible answers to this. First of all, the traditional view is that this serpent is really the Devil in disguise. The Devil had taken control of a snake in order to deceive Eve. And, of course, the disguise is part of the con, isn’t it? Were the Devil to appear to the woman as he really is — in all his wickedness — she would have run away from him straightaway. But instead, he came to her in disguise. And because he was in disguise, Eve was taken in by him.
Well, that’s the traditional view which Christians have believed down through the ages. And it makes perfect sense. However, another suggestion which I’ve come across recently is that Moses was using the words ‘the Serpent’ as a title. You see, in the Bible, Satan is known by many names or many titles. He’s the Devil which means ‘the Accuser’. He’s Apollyon which means ‘Destroyer’. He’s the Tempter. He’s the Wicked One. He’s the Ruler of this world. He’s the god of this world. He’s known as a roaring lion. So, perhaps, he’s also known as the Serpent. And it’s a good name for him because we’re all frightened of snakes, aren’t we? If I told you that a snake was loose in the church, you’d all probably lift your legs up off the floor just in case the snake was near you. And everyone would look around cautiously, because no one wants to be bitten by a snake.
Or think of that story in Numbers 21 of how the snakes got into the Israelite camp. And many of the Israelites were bitten by the snakes and they died. The Israelites for whom Moses was writing knew how dangerous snakes could be. And so, how fitting it would be to call Satan, ‘the Serpent’.
And, of course, if you turn to Revelation chapter 12 and verse 9, you’ll see that John, who wrote the book of Revelation, refers to Satan as: the great dragon who has been hurled down; and as the ancient serpent who leads the whole world astray. And isn’t that what Satan does? He leads us astray by deceiving us. And he began by deceiving Eve in Genesis 3 and tricking her into eating the forbidden fruit.
So, the serpent is either the Devil in disguise or it’s a title or name for Satan. What we certainly must never be tempted to do is to suggest that Genesis 3 is only a myth and a made up story. Lots of people say that now. They say we can’t possibly believe that a snake spoke to Eve. They say that this story about a forbidden fruit is a myth. It’s make-belief.
But we can’t say that. And we can’t say that because in the New Testament, the Apostle Paul compares Adam with the Lord Jesus and he compares and contrasts what Adam did with what the Lord Jesus has done. For the Apostle Paul, Adam is as real as the Lord Jesus and while the result of Adam’s sin was death for all, so the result of the Lord’s obedience is life for all who believe in him. So, we have the witness of Paul in the New Testament to remind us that what happened to Adam and Eve in the garden really did happen.
And, of course — and this is my final introductory point this evening — these things still happen. The Devil is still the great deceiver. He’s still a con-man. He still tempts us just as he tempted Eve so long ago. That’s why we have those verses in the book of Ephesians about being strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. We need to be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power, and we need to put on the full armour of God, and we need to stand firm because every day we’re in a battle, a fight, against the temptations of the Devil and all his wicked schemes. Just as he tempted Eve to disobey the Lord, so he tempts us to disobey the Lord and all of his commandments. So we need to be aware of him and we need to be prepared to stand up to his temptations. And so, let’s look at how he approached Eve and how he deceived her in the Garden of Eden. And I’m going to suggest that he uses at least three techniques in order to deceive her and to tempt her.
And the first technique he uses here is that he undermines her confidence in God’s goodness.
Now, think back to chapter 1 and the way God took this dark, formless and empty world and he made it into a suitable home for us. And whenever everything was ready, he made us. In other words, right at the beginning, he was providing for us and caring for us. And then think about chapter 2. Chapter 2 was about the creation of Adam and God’s goodness to him and his kindness. God gave him a home to live in. He gave him all the food he needed. He gave him Eve to be his wife and to be a suitable helper for him. Chapter 1 speaks to us of God’s goodness towards us. So does chapter 2. But along comes the Devil and he tries to undermine Eve’s confidence in God’s goodness.
How does he do that? Well, he gets her to think about the one way that God has restricted her. God has been so good to them. He said:
You’re free to eat from any tree in the garden apart from that one tree in the centre of the garden. Don’t eat from that.
And instead of thinking about all the other trees and all the other ways God has been generous to her, the Devil makes her think about that one restriction. Do you see? He comes to her in verse 1 and exaggerates what God has said. He said to her:
Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden?’
Now, God didn’t say that. But the Devil is suggesting that God might be mean enough to say something like that. And in verses 2 and 3 Eve answers him. First of all, she said:
We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden.
And that’s good. She’s right about that. However, she follows this up with a ‘but’. She said:
but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden.’
Now do you see? He’s got her to think about that one restriction, that one prohibition, that one thing she’s not allowed to do.
And, of course, none of us like to be restricted in any way. Children don’t like it when their parents say ‘no’ to them. Drivers don’t like it when we have to slow down because of speed restrictions. We don’t like all these health and safety rules which seem to restrict us from doing what we want. And sometimes in church, people don’t like it when the elders say ‘no’ to something we want to do. None of us likes to be restricted. And the Devil’s question in verse 2 forced Eve into thinking about this one restriction which God imposed upon her. And instead of focusing on God’s kindness, she’s now thinking about this one prohibition. No doubt she’s beginning to think to herself:
Isn’t God mean? Isn’t he unkind.
And look how she even exaggerates the prohibition: Whereas God forbade them from eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, she complains to the serpent that she’s not even allowed to touch it. How mean can he be!
Well, when we’re convinced of God’s goodness and his kindness towards us, we’re more inclined to obey him. In fact, we’ll want to obey him in order to demonstrate our gratitude to him for all his kindness towards us. That’s one of the reasons why we keep coming back to the cross of Christ and why we talk about the gospel every Sunday. We talk about the gospel and we think about the cross of Christ in order to remind ourselves of God’s kindness to sinners like us. And being reminded of his kindness makes us want to obey him more and more.
So, if being reminded of his kindness makes us want to obey him, then what happens if we start thinking that he’s mean to us? Well, whoever thinks God is mean and unkind is unlikely to want to obey him. And so, Satan’s first technique was to undermine Eve’s confidence in God’s goodness.
And he does the same to us today. He makes us think:
Why can’t I do what I want to do? Everyone else is doing it! So, why can’t I?
And instead of thinking about all that he allows us to do, and everything that he has done for us, we focus on the things he won’t allow us to do. And we’re tempted to think that God is being mean to us. That’s the Devil first technique.
Well, Satan’s second technique was to undermine Eve’s confidence in the truth and authority of God’s word.
Eve answered the Devil in verses 2 and 3 and explained that they aren’t allowed the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, because whoever takes it will die. That’s what God had said. And look at Satan’s response in verse 4. He said:
You will not surely die.
His words are a complete denial of what God had said. Now, up until this moment, Eve had no reason to doubt what God had said. And she had no reason to reject the authority of God’s word. Up until now, her attitude would have been: If God has said it, it must be true. And if God has said it, then I ought to do it.
But along comes the Devil and he suggests that God’s word is not true. He’s saying to her:
God said you’d die? You won’t die. He’s got it wrong.
And, of course, if God is wrong about this, then there’s no reason to obey what he has said. So, Satan undermined the truth of God’s word. And he undermined the authority of God’s word. He’s saying to Eve:
He’s wrong. So, don’t listen to him. And don’t do what he has said.
And the same thing happens today. We’ve seen in recent years how whole denominations of the church have changed their views on human sexuality and on homosexuality, in particular. And it all began when people began to attack the truth of God’s word and the authority of God’s word. People argued that the Bible is wrong and we can no longer regard what the Bible says about such things as true. And if what the Bible says about these things is not true, then we don’t have to listen to what the Bible says about these things. If God’s word is not true, then we don’t have to obey it.
But, of course, we see the same thing happening every day in smaller ways. You know, there’s something we want to do ourselves. But the Bible seems to forbid it. And so, we try to work out some way around it. So, for instance, we’ll try to convince ourselves that while God’s word is generally true, it’s not true in my case. So, teenagers say:
Yes, I know God has said that I’m to obey my parents. But, I’m sure God doesn’t mean me to obey them when they’re being so unreasonable.
Or we say:
Yes, I know I’m meant to forgive those who have offended me and I’m meant to love even my enemies. But, this person has been so mean to me. I’m sure God doesn’t expect me to forgive him. Do you see what we do?
We say: Yes, God’s word is true, but it’s not true on this occasion. And therefore I don’t have to do what God has said.
Or we like to think that now we know more than the people did when the Bible was written. We say to ourselves:
Yes, that was true then, when Moses was alive, or when Paul was alive. But things are different now. What God’s word said then was true. But it’s not true any more.
The Devil suggested to Eve that God’s word was not true. And therefore, she didn’t have to do what he said. That was his second technique.
His third technique was to lure her into sin with a bait.
The fisherman who drops a hook over the side of the boat will not catch much unless he hides the hook under a bait or a fly. He needs to dress the hook up and make it look appealing.
And that’s what the Devil was doing in verse 5. Listen to what he said to Eve. And, in fact, he uses all three techniques in this one verse. Firstly, he said
You will not surely die….
There you are, he’s undermining the truth of God’s word. Secondly, he said:
You will not surely die…. For God knows….
Now, he’s suggesting that God is being mean; he’s telling Eve that God knows something which he’s trying to hide from her. Thirdly, he said:
You will not surely die…. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.
And now he’s dangling the bait in front of her. He’s saying to her:
Wouldn’t you like your eyes to be opened so that you can know what God knows? Wouldn’t you like to be like God? Wouldn’t you like to be able to determine what’s good and what’s evil like God does? Look at all that you’ll get when you eat this fruit!
And look at verse 6. She fell for it. She looked at the fruit and all she saw was the bait: It looked good for food. It was pleasing to the eye. It was desirable for gaining wisdom. There seemed to be no down sides. It was all good. And so she swallowed the bait.
Well, think of Judas in the Bible who betrayed the Lord Jesus. Why? Well, he was lured into sin by the thought of receiving thirty pieces of silver.
Or think of how the Devil tried to tempt the Lord Jesus. He said:
Bow down and worship me. Bow down and worship me. And I will give you all the kingdoms of the world.
That was the bait: all the kingdoms of the world.
Now, bow down and worship me.
The Devil dangles some bait before our eyes and he says to us:
Wouldn’t you like this. You’d really enjoy having this. So, come on. Take it.
That’s what he did with Eve. And it’s what he does with us as well.
So, the Devil tries to undermine our confidence in the goodness of God. And so, we need to remind ourselves every day of the goodness of God. Every day we need to preach the gospel to our own hearts so that we will feel only gratitude and praise towards God.
And the Devil tries to undermine our confidence in the truth and authority of God’s word. And so, we need to teach ourselves every day that God’s word is true. And it’s true because it’s God’s word and God cannot lie and God is never wrong.
And the Devil tries to tempt us by using a bait to lure us into sin. And so, we must remind ourselves of the great reward that God has promised to his faithful people. Throughout the New Testament, we’re reminded of the glory that will be revealed in us and of all the good things that God has stored up for us if we will only remain on the narrow way that leads to life.
Well, of course, Eve listened to the Devil and not to the Lord. And she took the forbidden fruit. And she gave some to Adam. And because of what they had done, they ran away and hid from the Lord when they heard him coming.
Well, many years later, we read how the Lord Jesus was in another garden. And, whereas Eve in the Garden of Eden disobeyed the will of God, so the Lord Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane bowed before his Father in Heaven and he prayed: ‘Not my will, but your’s be done.’
And whereas Eve reached out in order to take the forbidden fruit, so the Lord Jesus reached out and took the cup of God’s wrath and he drank it in full to pay for our sins.
Whereas Eve wanted to become like God, so the Son of God became like one of us in order to pay for our sins.
And whereas Adam and Eve had to run away from God because of what they had done, we now have the hope of coming into the presence of God in glory because of what Christ has done for us.
Every day we give in to temptation and we sin against the Lord just as Eve did. But thanks be to God, for sending his Son who lived for us and who died for us and who rose again so that we could receive forgiveness for all that we have done wrong and the hope of everlasting life.